Here’s a fun menu of ways to mess with players’ characters, twisting them from what’s on their character sheets into supernatural pawns in a game they didn’t know they were playing. Paranoid, or simply not paranoid enough? Moo-hoo-ha-ha-ha…
The PCs are actually sleeper agents who have been given false memories and placed on Earth to someday either help or hinder extraterrestrial invaders. Had the characters known of their true natures, opposing conspiracies would have found and eliminated them long ago. Perhaps the controllers who were meant to trigger the characters’ true calling have already been killed, leaving the sleepers as loose ends at best, possible rogue operatives at worst. Imagine the bad guys confronting the PCs and demanding to know why they have not conquered the planet yet…
Another common trope option: The character was sent by the conspiracy, but then suffered some physical, mental or mystical trauma that wiped out past memories. (Yes, it’s Jason Bourne-ism, but I said trope.)
The invading secret conspiracy could come from more than one source, perhaps even several sources. Now that “the right time has come,” all the player character could find themselves captured by a common foe who then escape together and remained allies.
Maybe a secret society or government agency has recruited them all to fight inhuman threats. They could be alumni of the same university at which the study of the occult was a major program. Or maybe they learn they are all descendants of a great-great-ancestor who championed the fight against inhuman threats.
The Awful But True Conspiracy
ALIENS: While the Greys lead the list of usual suspects, sometimes other extraterrestrials are responsible instead. Humanity poses a threat to those from other worlds – perhaps we might one day take our warlike nature and atomic weapons into deep space, or maybe we might spreads germs against which extraterrestrials have no resistance. Maybe Earth is a strategic location between two or more interstellar empires at war. Our blue planet may offer abundant natural resources for struggling alien industries, or maybe humans make tasty cuisine. Maybe the aliens’ reasons for hating humanity are simply too alien for us to understand. Whatever the case, these extraterrestrials are not yet ready to land a full-scale occupation of our planet and must make do with covert schemes and ongoing surveillance.
THE OLD ONES: Eons before the rise of man, extremely powerful alien beings ruled this solar system and used the primitive native creature of Earth as slaves and food. Some cataclysmic event caused these beings to vanish, but they are not dead – indeed, they continue to exist near our world but separated from our reality. Some of these Old Ones sleep in stasis, others are awake but trapped. In either case, they cannot return to reclaim our world until complicated rituals are performed during a specific alignment of planets and stars. In the meantime, the latent energy of these Old Ones is being tapped by modern-day wizards and cultists willing to risk corrupting influence in exchange for magical power.
DEMONS: For millennia, these fiends have feasted on the primal suffering of the world, biding their time for another chance to undo the divine order of the universe. Perhaps the demons need a specific child to be born to end the rules which bind them from acting openly on Earth. Not content to merely kill off humanity, demons instead need to keep us alive, afraid, and sinful to further their cause.
THE CABAL: Secret occult societies have been around for centuries, but in the modern age, many of them have been able to spread their membership further and faster than ever before. Add to these groups such supernatural creatures such as vampires, werewolves and sorcerers, and the Creatures of the Night become the world’s nastiest special interest group.
KILLER ROBOTS: Biological lifeforms are a plague upon the Earth. The world must eventually be sterilized for the sake of efficiency and order. Such a purge will use a lot of energy, and until enough reserves are ready, the robots must work secretly and monitor the planet’s festering human disease. Some robot agents may be cyborgs sent out to walk among humanity, while others are AI programs hiding among the Internet’s connected networks. The easier the robots can make modern life, the more they can make humanity come to rely on their machines for survival, and thus the easier the extermination will be when the day of reckoning arrives.
PARALLEL UNIVERSE NAZIS: If not later generations of Hitler Youth, then this faction could be Communists, Amazons, religious zealots, corporate conquistadors, or some other group which basically matches modern humanity but follows an extremely different culture. These people are basically normal humans but have some means of “hopping” between alternate worlds (time machines, magic portals, etc.), and they seek to either make our Earth like theirs or deprive us the chance to threaten their world in return.
TIME TRAVELERS: In the far future, Earth’s environment has been wasted by either by nuclear war or by a catastrophic natural disaster. To plan for such a doomsday, survivors have been sent back in time to either avert the disaster or at least plan for survival by making secret stockpiles of supplies and technology. In the future those who follow this conspiracy’s plans will be able to find and use these emergency depots to rebuild humanity.
THE EUGENICS GENERATION: Humanity is spawning minor mutations all the time, but few emerge as meaningful in individuals or make a difference to future generations. However, somewhere in the world a group of genetic engineers have isolated and nurtured a race of “ultimate humans,” perhaps enhanced with custom-built chromosomes or mixed with enhancements taken from other species. Although most such “perfect” beings are kept confined in a lab or isolated location, all it took was one escape to introduce such genetic code into the population at large. Perhaps a few of these “supermen” are still on the loose. Children of these beings may or may not inherit enhanced abilities. In any case, the masters of this breeding program will not tolerate the uncontrolled spread of their manufactured DNA or the runaways which bear such genes.
THE VIRUS: The decision-making abilities of an individual cell are rather limited, but put enough of the right ones together, and you get Albert Einstein. What if there was a way for microscopic life to maintain a collective consciousness separate from its host lifeform? What if this “smart infection” could jump from human to human? Such is the case with the so-called “metavirus” spreading across the world, largely unnoticed by world health organizations. Those carrying the virus may or may not know of their condition, never noticing their subtle changes in behavior which serve the infection’s survival at the cost of its current host. What if this “metavirus” mutated to create rival strains? The resulting conflict between infected groups would result in strife and wars based on trivial strategic goals or fabricated pretenses. Sound familiar?
Beings Hiding in Plain Sight
Here are ideas to “reveal” as a character’s true nature during play…
Fallen Angel: Just as a moment of disobedience cast out Adam and Eve from Eden, so too did your own failings put you in the displeasure of Heaven. Now a earth-bound wanderer stripped of wings, majesty and much of your former powers, you seek either redemption back into the Kingdom or sinful dominion over mortals in mockery of your former home.
Rogue Sorcerer: Through your own study of arcane lore, you have discovered the secrets to real magic. You have used your powers for petty personal gain, further research into the unknown, and from time to time even protecting the mortal world from supernatural horrors. However, rival sorcerers scheme to steal your secrets and destroy you, and agents of both church and state would surely punish you for the natural and legal laws you have in the past violated out of gross necessity.
Deep Cover Agent: The U.S. government has maintains a bureau of supernatural activities ever since the mid-1940s when the failed occult experiments of the Third Reich and the disastrous extraterrestrial contact at Area 51 became known. Secret projects from Groom Lake aeronautics to MK/ULTRA telepaths and current ELF-related projects fill your resume. You now find and confront alien horrors, help protect Earth, humanity and the integrity of past history. (Think Men in Black.)
Slayer: Entrusted by the Church to track down and destroy supernatural threats to our reality. (Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer.)
Fated Scion: All your life your more extreme religious relatives have told you about your destiny to confront and thwart the unseen evil which threatens all of humanity; however, the price you will one day pay may be your life, or worse, your soul. Some days you doubt their sanity, other days you cannot deny the weird coincidences which have gotten you to where you are today.
Rogue Android: You recently discovered your “life” is a lie – your childhood, your parents, your first love – all false memories implanted in your artificial brain to make you function like a human being. Through convincingly life-like, your body was manufactured in a secret lab. You have no idea who made you or why. Did you escape from some super-advanced robotics laboratory? Were you released into society as an experiment? Is there some purpose to your existence, some long-term mission you may one day fulfill? What if you were a mistake – a failed prototype now on the loose? Might someone what you back for disassemble and analysis, either your creators or their competitors?
Seer: You dream of disasters and world events which come to pass with startling accuracy. Recently your dreams have become nightmares in which inhuman horrors ravage the world’s cities, enslaving and devouring all of humanity. Those to whom you shared your visions dismissed you insane. You could not endure doing nothing in the face of doom, so you have begun to seek out those who would listen and could help thwart whatever peril is impending the Earth.
Godling: Until recently you were a being of vast supernatural power: You battled epic monsters and served as master and shepherd to a flock of devoted followers. All that changed when a rival trickster god trapped you into the body of a common mortal, humbling your spirit and crippling your power. Although a fraction of your supernatural abilities have begun to return, you have not yet broken the enchantment binding you to this current state of existence.
Planar Rogue: You travel other dimensions for fun and profit, always careful to cover your tracks to avoid discovery by arcane watchmen, or worse, leading some planar horror back to your native reality. You’ve dealt with very powerful creatures, some with clearly evil intent, but as long as their price was manageable, you’ve been willing to take the risk.
Temporal Fixer: You have come back in time from the future to prevent humanity’s fall to alien supernatural forces. You possess enhanced abilities and knowledge of events to come. If successful, the horrid world you’ve known your whole life will never come to be.
Occultist: Through archeological evidence, obscure myths and recent scientific discoveries, you suspect the secrets of the cosmos are about to become revealed. You hope to be the one who finally cracks the secret and pioneers humanity into a new age. However, unlike the popular masses of so-called believers, your academic sense seeks to soundly prove your theories.
Exorcist: Demons prey on the flesh and souls of the living, looking to use earthly vessels as their instruments of sin. You have mastered the rituals and sacraments needed to banish such fiends from the bodies of innocent mortals, though doing so puts your life – indeed, your very soul – at personal risk.
Vampire or Ghost: Something terrible happened one night, but you cannot remember any details – only the feeling of absolute terror as your life ended. But you did not stay dead. Ever since that night, you have been feeding on the living around you – maybe blood, maybe emotions or other spark of vitality – even thought you may not yet acknowledge the thing you have become.
Fugitive of the Damned: You lived a life of sin, died, and discovered Hell was very real. Your eternal punishment was cut short when you escaped and made your way back to Earth into the body of another whose near-death-experience opened a door for your return. Both agents of the church and demons from Hell hunt you since you represent a violation of divine law. However, this second chance at life may give you a shot at redemption.
Experiment X: You are person kidnapped from a mundane life and subjected to bizarre techno-magical procedures in order to “awaken” latent powers. You recently escaped your captors but still have no idea who they were or for what agency or cult they worked. You know the price of being recaptured – several of your fellow escapees disappeared for a time and were later found dead, often dissected. Investigations into such murders are always short-lived, the cases left unsolved and forgotten.
Inheritor of a Curse: Ages ago one of your ancestors offended a power supernatural being who has held a grudge down through the generations. Most of your family have fallen to this horror, but you have survived tested and trained to stand against the supernatural.
Unnatural Spawn: You always thought you were a “normal” person, but now you are haunted by horrific dreams and have even begun developing uncontrolled supernatural features and powers. Only recently have you discovered your blood kinship to ancient inhuman beings. You consider the term “monster” to apply more to one’s actions than to one’s nature, and so you seek to emphasis your human side over your increasingly disturbing primal urges. (Think Dagon.)
Planar Refugee: The mortal world has no idea of what supernatural horrors lurk just beyond the thin arcane wards which protect this world. You experienced such nightmares first-hand for much of your life until escaping into the relative sanctuary of this mortal world. However, you are hardly free – hunters from the other side occasionally come here find those they consider runaway slaves, and would-be wizards and mad occultists would love to interrogate and extract information locked inside your addled head.